In recent years, Runner’s World magazine profiled a number of championship athletes who possess the unique characteristic of prosthetic limbs. Against incredible odds, these runners persevere and accomplish more in the realm of physical fitness than many people with typically developed arms and legs.
I ponder what it must take to face such a disability and refuse to settle for anything less than victory. Surely there is far more at work than the physical training required to ingrain the discipline and muscle memory needed for peak performance.
This is the seventh of a 12-part series that began a couple of months back with emphasizing the value of a strategic, integrative “life plan” that synergizes the buckets of Health, Family and Vocation. Last time I wrote about change leadership, and in this posting I want to discuss how the most effective leaders embrace the oft-misunderstood notion of discipline.
Discipline is not severity. It is not lack of humor or compassion, or hardening one’s heart or mind or refusing to budge.
Rather, my favorite definition of discipline is simply doing what needs to be done when it needs to be done.
In their book The Power of Full Engagement, performance coaches Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz discuss how the primary markers of physical capacity are strength, endurance, flexibility and resilience. These same qualities, however, apply to emotional, mental and spiritual capacity as well, the authors contend. We often remain caught in the trap of living “highly linear lives, spending far more energy than we recover, with the result that we break down, burn out, atrophy, lose our passion, get sick and even die prematurely.” In order to be “fully engaged” in all activities, Loehr and Schwartz write, we must learn to “live our lives as a series of sprints: fully engaging for periods of time, and then fully disengaging and seeking renewal before jumping back into the fray to face whatever challenges confront us.”
The coaches’ insights shed additional light upon Paul’s assertion in 1 Cor. 9:24-25, that those runners who win the prize “go into strict training.” Paul athletic analogy can be unpacked to reveal the importance of the whole person—mind, body and spirit—being fully available to the Christ within, by practicing this lifelong interplay of holistic engagement and disengagement.
Thankfully, Jesus himself modeled this dynamic discipline for us.
The Gospels give numerous accounts of his compassionate, seemingly limitless service to individuals, groups and crowds. We could easily glean the misperception that he was always busy working, and that a “successful Christian”—or a successful anyone—is always working as well. But Luke 5:16 reminds us, “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”
Jesus was the most disciplined leader who ever lived. Our Lord knew how to disengage when necessary, so that he might have the endurance and prayer muscle memory to fully engage the race to Calvary and refuse to settle for anything less than victory on the cross. His resurrected life within us fuels every capacity of our being, empowering us to endure as well; and this life comes to fruition each time we choose to practice the ways of this most famous athlete.
Next in this series, I’ll build on this discussion of integrative, disciplined change leaders by focusing on how everything discussed so far sets a leader up to be a great coach of others.